Kamiak alum pursues music despite growing up with deaf parents

Goran dedicates himself to mastering ukulele, guitar, saxophone
By Nicholas Johnson | Mar 08, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Leonardo Goran, 19, plays “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” originally by The Beatles, in the backyard of his home in the Picnic Point neighborhood.

In spite of being raised by two deaf parents, Leonardo Goran has developed a passion for playing music.

“My parents can’t hear my music,” said Goran, 19, who graduated from Kamiak High School in 2015 and now attends Edmonds Community College, playing saxophone in the school’s jazz band.

“Most parents don’t allow their kids to choose music as a career path because it’s very competitive and difficult,” he said. “My parents want me to be happy, though, and they see that I work hard.

“You don’t have to be in a musical family to become a musician. As long as you have the love for the music and resources for training, you can get results.”

Goran first picked up a saxophone in fourth grade after overhearing the musical soundtrack of a Lifetime movie his mother was watching on television.

“I didn’t get serious about it until I got into high school,” he said, adding that in his freshman year a friend got him interested in guitar, as well. “I was experimenting with a lot of stuff in freshman year. I tried playing piano and singing, but I ended up deciding to stick to saxophone and guitar.”

Goran had been teaching himself to play guitar by watching videos on Youtube until a friend told him about a teacher who offers online lessons via Skype. He’s been studying under teacher Jeffrey Thomas ever since.

In his junior year, Goran was again browsing videos on Youtube when he came across Jake Shimabukuro, an internationally renowned ukulele musician, playing a cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” by The Beatles.

“I didn’t know music could sound as beautiful until I heard him playing that song,” he said. “It felt like finding the missing piece of a puzzle. My life changed when I saw it. I had shivers running through my spine. I kept listening to it on repeat for months after that. I didn’t want to learn that song; I needed to learn that song.”

So, that’s what he set out to do with his guitar teacher’s help.

In his senior year, he performed the song during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly. He admits he made a few mistakes during that performance.

“I was actually happy I didn’t play it perfectly because it forced me to push myself to where I could play it even better,” he said. “Out of my desperation to get it right, I had to be more creative and work even harder, so I developed new techniques that helped me play it better.”

Last fall, he performed two songs during an Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk in Everett. And, in February, he travelled to Hawaii to compete in the 6th annual International Ukulele Contest, taking second place for his performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

That, he said, has inspired him to continue improving his ukulele skills. He now plans to work with his teacher to learn classical guitar techniques, then he’ll move on to flamenco-style guitar, which he said will help him play his ukulele faster and with greater precision.

“For me to take ukulele to the next level, I need to study flamenco,” he said.

Goran said he’s also begun writing his own music for ukulele, and he plans to begin compiling songs for an album, with a portion of the proceeds from any sales going toward support for the deaf.

“I’ve realized that my parents spoiled me with all their support,” he said. “Most people are not so fortunate to have that, so I want to give back.”

Goran is currently visiting Cuba with the Edmonds Community College Jazz Band. He said he plans to continue playing saxophone. Lately, he’s been inspired by the improvisational nature of jazz musicians such as Kamasi Washington and the Roy Hargrove Quintet.

“When I first started, I just wanted to play songs I really enjoyed, but now I’m growing into the idea of improvisation,” he said, adding that he hopes to apply a similar style of play to ukulele.

In October 2015, Goran got a chance to meet Shimabukuro after a show in Seattle and play his favorite cover for him. A year later at a show in Tacoma, Goran met him again and gave him his contact information, encouraging Shimabukuro to watch a Youtube video of him playing ukulele.

On Sept. 13, Shimabukuro sent Goran a text message:

“Hey Leo - it's Jake. I checked out your video! You sound fantastic!! Love your left hand work. Keep doing what you're doing brother.

“I was very touched by your passion for music. It's clear that music means a great deal to you. Really proud of what you're doing, and I'm sure your parents are as well. Take care and all the best to you. Aloha!”

Goran, recalling his lack of musical discipline as a kid, said his love for music and ukulele, more specifically, has motivated him be much more disciplined as an adult.

“One of the big things I’ve learned is that your love for anything you want to do can make up for your lack of discipline,” he said. “I still have more work to do, but I think I still have plenty of potential.”

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